The citizens’ draft bill, put forward by an anti-abortion organisation, would see women jailed for 5 to 25 years for abortions.
The Polish parliament is set to debate a draft bill on Wednesday that would introduce harsh prison sentences for women who access abortion and those who help them.
Poland introduced a controversial near-total ban on abortion last year, sparking large protests and pushing many women to travel abroad for abortions. While helping provide an abortion currently carries up to three years in prison, obtaining one is not criminalised.
The new bill, proposed by Pro – Right to Life Foundation, a Polish anti-abortion organisation, will be discussed by the Polish Parliament’s lower chamber, the Sejm, on December 1 and 2. It aims to introduce prison sentences of five to 25 years for depriving a “conceived child” of life, as well as life imprisonment in some cases. It also seeks to further criminalise anyone who facilitates an abortion.
“The bill seeking to equate abortion with killing is the latest in a wave of cruel and discriminatory attacks on women’s human rights by Polish lawmakers which is putting the health and lives of women, girls and people in need of an abortion at greater risk,” said Esther Major, Amnesty International’s Senior Research Adviser for Europe.
Poland already has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, after a decision of the country’s constitutional tribunal last year banned abortion for foetal abnormalities on grounds that they violate Article 38 of the Polish constitution, which protects the “right to life of every human being.”
Abortion in Poland is currently only possible in cases of rape and if the mother’s life or health is at risk. In the European Union, only Malta has stricter abortion laws with its blanket ban.
The draft citizens’ bill proposes to criminalise obtaining an abortion under an existing provision in Poland’s Criminal Code on “causing injury to a person”, which, if resulting in “the person’s death” carries a minimum prison sentence of 5 years and a life sentence for “aggravated murder”. According to the Brussels-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the bill could see women jailed for five years in cases of miscarriage.
“This is a nightmare scenario for women in Poland because the new bill bears striking similarity to El Salvador’s abortion ban, under which women are incarcerated if they have abortions or miscarriages,” said Irene Donadio of the IPPF European Network. “If Poland takes such a cruel decision it would simply devastate women and families’ lives.”
The draft bill also seeks to make providing an abortion a criminal offence for “involuntarily causing the death of a person” and to legally define an embryo as a “child” from the moment of conception.
Two years ago, the Pro – Right to Life Foundation put forward a bill that sought to criminalise sexual education. New bills in Poland can be introduced through citizens’ initiatives that have gathered at least 100,000 signatures.
The bill comes a month after protests flared up again across the country over the death of a 30-year-old woman of septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy. Rights groups say she was the first victim Poland’s abortion ban and of the “chilling effect” on doctors fearing prosecution. An investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of the tragedy.